Nutrition is not a popular water cooler topic for men. Use this article to open a discussion about the benefits of healthy eating with the men in your life.
What does a man consider a seven-course meal? A burger and a six-pack. Women, tell this joke to a significant male in your life and gauge his reaction. If he shrugs and says, “Sounds good,” he may need a nutritional makeover—or at least a few pointers.
And gentlemen, if a burger and a beer is your idea of grab-and-go gourmet dining, please read on.
There has never been a time in our history when we’ve needed to pay more attention to what we eat. It’s also never been easier to make poor food choices by picking up that burger for lunch or ordering in pizza for dinner. But with a change in mindset, it’s just as easy to make healthy food choices.
Tipping the scales
According to the Canadian Health Measures Survey for 2007 to 2009 (the latest stats available), 37 percent of adults were overweight and 24 percent were obese. Many more men than women fell into the overweight category, but men and women were equally represented when it came to obesity.
Researchers gauge the highest obesity-related health risk based on the size of one’s waist circumference: the larger our waist size, the higher our health risk. Based on this measurement, men who were at high health risk included
- 21 percent, aged 20 to 39
- 52 percent, aged 60 to 69
Men and women tend to gain weight in different places. For women, excess weight tends to accumulate on breasts, hips, and thighs. But men tend to put on weight around their waist, a dangerous place.
From the waist, fat makes its way to the liver, where metabolic problems, such as diabetes, begin. Extra pounds predispose men to hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and sleep apnea. And extra weight can have unwelcome effects on a man’s sex life, exercise habits, and overall enjoyment of life.
Calculating the risks
According to figures from Statistics Canada, cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death in Canada, for men and women. Included in the top 10 are stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, which can all be mitigated through diet.
If men and women suffer from the same diseases, do they also share the same nutritional needs?
There are more similarities than differences, but women require more iron than men during their childbearing years.
Men’s and women’s protein needs are the same. Fifteen percent of our daily calorie intake should be from proteins, or roughly 0.8 g of protein for every kilogram of body weight. That translates into about 64 g of protein a day for a 160 lb (73 kg) adult.
Protein requirements for athletes range from 1.0 to 1.8 g of protein per kilogram per day depending on the demands of their sport.
Men enjoy a well-deserved reputation as barbecue kings. But a recent study shows a direct association between red meat and prostate cancer. Processed meats, especially well-cooked grilled or barbecued ground beef, had the highest risk for aggressive prostate cancer due to the carcinogens produced during cooking. Rare and medium-cooked meats did not have an association with prostate cancer.
Red meat doesn’t have to be forsaken, but choose a lean cut of organic beef. A 2 to 3 oz (57 to 85 g) portion is sufficient—the size of a deck of cards.
A 6 oz (170 g) porterhouse steak is loaded with 38 g of protein, but also contains 44 g of fat, including 6 g of saturated fat. The same size serving of salmon nets 38 g of protein with only 18 g of fat, 4 g of which are saturated.
Best sources of protein
- vegetable sources, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains
- animal sources, such as fish and poultry
Men’s and women’s fat requirements are also the same: fat should make up no more than 30 to 35 percent of our daily calorie intake. For those concerned about weight, reducing our fat intake to 20 to 25 percent can help shed those unwanted pounds. Of all the nutrients, fat contains the most calories at nine per gram.
As men age, muscle is replaced by fatty tissue. Because fatty tissue doesn’t require as many calories to sustain as muscle does, pounds start to accumulate when overeating and a lack of exercise are factored in.
To reduce fat intake, cut down on saturated fats, and cut out trans fatty acids. These partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are found in hard margarine, commercial baked goods, processed foods, and fried foods.
Choose more unsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as extra-virgin olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish and plant sources such as walnuts and flaxseed oil.
Good for the heart, they confer protection against stroke, reduce triglyceride levels, increase good (HDL) cholesterol levels, and have anti-inflammatory properties. Earlier research found that the plant source of omega-3s, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), increased prostate cancer risk, but that finding has since been refuted by additional research.
Best sources of omega-3s
- cold-water fish, such as salmon, herring,mackerel, sardines, and anchovies
- fish oils
- plant sources such as walnuts, hempseed, flaxseed, sunflower, and safflower oils
Ideally, carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of men’s and women’s daily calorie intake. But carbohydrates are not created equal. The glycemic index (GI) categorizes carbohydrates based on how much and how quickly they increase our blood sugar level compared to pure glucose.
Processed foods, such as white bread and baked goods, rate high on the GI, as they cause blood sugar levels to spike rapidly. Research has shown that eating a diet rich in processed foods increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colorectal cancer. They can also contribute to weight gain.
Choosing foods that have a lower glycemic rating, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, may help control type 2 diabetes, provide fibre, and maintain a healthy weight.
Some of men’s favourite snack foods fall under the carbohydrate category: potato chips, pretzels, popcorn—all the snacks needed to watch the big game.
Unfortunately, these foods can contain high amounts of calories, fat, and sodium.
Start your morning with healthy, filling whole grains.
Ditch highly processed fat- and sugar-filled cereals for a steaming bowl of organic steel-cut oats.
Best sources of carbohydrates
- Eat fruits and vegetables rather than drinking juice (an orange has two times the fibre and half the sugar of a 12 oz glass of orange juice).
- Choose whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur, or wheat berries (when choosing bread, make sure it’s made of whole grains).
Commit to healthy eating
It’s difficult—and unrealistic—to change unhealthy eating habits overnight. But by committing to one healthy change a week, healthy eating will become second nature. Adding a new change each week will soon lead to increased energy and a feeling of well-being. And just as important, a lowered risk for a variety of life-shortening diseases.
Cutting down on sodium
Eating high amounts of sodium has been shown to increase blood pressure. High blood pressure (or hypertension) is the number one preventable risk factor for death in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Nineteen percent of Canadian adults have high blood pressure, and a further 20 percent are classed as pre-hypertensive. The Canadian Community Health Survey found in 2004 that 85 percent of males aged nine to 70 had a sodium intake that was higher than the tolerable upper intake level of 2,300 mg per day. The average sodium intake was 3,400 mg per day!
The Sodium Working Group was established in 2007 by the federal government, with the goal of reducing Canadians’ sodium intake by 2016. Its recommendations for sodium intake are
|Age||Adequate intake (AI)
(mg per day)
|Tolerable upper intake level (UL)
(mg per day)
|9 to 50||1,500||2,300|
|51 to 70||1,300||2,300|
Bear in mind that 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.
Sodium is found in many processed foods. For example, a bowl of conventional name-brand bran cereal that contains raisins has 354 mg of sodium, or about 24 percent of our daily recommended amount. Fast food is even worse. A fast food burger can easily contain over 1,000 mg of salt, and half of its calories come from fat, including a hefty amount of saturated fat.
Skip the salt. Be adventurous and flavour foods with spices, fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, citrus, and flavoured vinegars. Limit sodium-filled condiments such as ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.
Avoid extra sodium
- Choose unprocessed foods—fresh meats rather than cured meats or cold cuts, fresh fruits and vegetables rather than canned.
- Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables; this trick will naturally tip the sodium balance in your favour.
Sodium is often hidden in the foods we eat. The following 10 foods are the worst offenders when it comes to high sodium content and frequency of consumption, according to American statistics.
- meat pizza
- white bread
- processed cheese
- hot dogs
- spaghetti with sauce
- cooked rice
- white rolls
- flour tortillas
Curbing fast food intake
A study published in the journal Obesity in 2009 looked at the relationship between people’s attitudes toward fast food and how often they ate fast food. The researchers discovered two factors that led to fast food consumption:
- a dislike of cooking
Perhaps not surprisingly given these findings, men were more likely to eat fast food than women, as were single people. If you do find yourself chowing down on fast food, keep the following tips in mind.
- Choose grilled chicken rather than fried (fried can contain more fat and calories than a burger!).
- Skip the pop (even diet pop) and choose water to reduce calories.
Best sources of fast food
- Opt for a whole grain sub or wrap rather than fried fast food.
- Go to a supermarket or health food store where you can select a healthy lunch option or pick up some vegetables, fruit, or yogourt.
Top 10 foods for men
|1. almonds||7 almonds contain 23 mg of calcium, as well as fibre, iron, and magnesium; they help lower cholesterol|
|2. bananas||rich in potassium, bananas help regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke|
|3. blueberries||loaded with vitamin C, blueberries contain phytonutrients that promote healthy aging and improve short-term memory|
|4. broccoli||loaded with phytonutrients and vitamins A and C, broccoli may help prevent heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes|
|5. salmon||an excellent source of omega-3s, salmon has many heart-protective properties|
|6. spinach||high in vitamins A and C and folate, spinach boosts the immune system and helps protect against macular degeneration|
|7. cooked tomatoes||lycopene in tomatoes has long been believed to reduce the risk of prostate cancer; studies aren’t conclusive, but heating tomatoes in a sauce and adding fat, such as extra-virgin olive oil, increases lycopene absorption by 55 percent|
|8. apples||contain vitamin C and pectin, a soluble fibre that helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose|
|9. wheat germ||chock full of nutrients including thiamine, folate, magnesium, and zinc, and a great source of fibre|
|10. sweet potatoes||beta carotene helps slow the aging process and reduces the risk of certain cancers|
Drinking for your health
Numerous studies have focused on the health benefits of consuming alcohol. Studies have shown that moderate drinking results in a 25 to 40 percent reduction in risk for various aspects of cardiovascular disease. Other studies have shown that the moderate consumption of alcohol may help prevent diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alcohol, however, is a source of extra calories, and for some individuals with a family history of alcoholism, the risks may not outweigh the benefits.
In November 2011, Canada’s National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee released new alcohol consumption guidelines.
The new guidelines recommend
- a maximum of 15 drinks a week for men, with no more than three drinks a day most days
- a maximum of 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than two drinks a day most days
- not drinking every day to avoid creating a dependence on alcohol
Daily calorie requirements for men
It’s a no-brainer—sitting at a desk all day requires fewer calories than performing physical labour or participating in athletic activities. Gauge your intake according to your output.
|14 to 18||2,200||2,400 to 2,800||2,800 to 3,200|
|19 to 30||2,400||2,600 to 2,800||3,000|
|31 to 50||2,200||2,400 to 2,600||2,800 to 3,000|
|51 and older||2,000||2,200 to 2,400||2,400 to 2,800|
Best supplements for men
There’s no substitute for a healthy diet, but when taking a daily multivitamin, choose one specially formulated for men that contains little or no iron. Consult your health care practitioner for supplements and dosages that are right for you.
|Supplement||Age||Recommended dietary allowance (RDA)
|vitamin D||9 to 70
71 and older
|calcium||19 to 50
51 to 70
71 and older
Male eating disorders
Eating disorders are primarily thought of as a woman’s problem, but they affect both genders for similar reasons. Estimating the extent of the problem for men is difficult given that many male eating disorders go undiagnosed.
Men are reluctant to report an eating disorder, and health care practitioners aren’t good at recognizing them. A recent study on binge eating estimated that it affects 7.5 percent of men.
Sports such as gymnastics, track, rowing, and wrestling that have weight restrictions or weight categories, help foster eating disorders in male athletes.
Males are under pressure to have a V-shaped lean but muscular body like the models in male fitness and muscle magazines.
The Canadian Mental Health Association offers these warning signs of eating disorders:
- low self-esteem
- withdrawal from social activities
- striving for perfection
- inability to concentrate
- feeling overweight when weight is normal or dramatic weight loss has occurred
- obsession with food, weight, and calorie counting
- dieting to extremes
- excessive exercise
- fasting or continuous dieting
- uncontrolled, impulsive, or constant eating
- denial of a problem